England will open Rugby World Cup in Dunedin

Click to follow
The Independent Online

England will open their World Cup campaign in Dunedin after organisers today announced which venues will stage matches which had been due to be played in Christchurch.

Christchurch is steeped in rugby tradition and had originally been slated to stage a total of seven fixtures, including two quarter-finals.

However the deadly earthquake which struck the city on February 22 damaged Christchurch Stadium, forcing World Cup chiefs to revise their plans.

Martin Johnson's England team will take on Argentina on September 10, but rather than in Christchurch the game will be played at Otago Stadium.

England will then take on Georgia at the same Dunedin venue on September 18, in another match which was initially scheduled for Christchurch.

Scotland were also due to play Argentina in Christchurch on September 25, but while the date remains the same, the match will now take place at the Wellington Regional Stadium.

The Scots have also seen another match switched, with their September 14 clash with Georgia moved from Dunedin to Invercargill for "operational reasons", organisers Rugby New Zealand (RNZ) 2011 announced.

While England and Scotland are among the Group B teams affected, Australia have been told their Group C opener against Italy will take place at Auckland's North Harbour Stadium on September 11.

The Wallabies were due to place two matches in Christchurch and will now take on Russia at Nelson's Trafalgar Park on October 1.

It was already known that the two quarter-finals allocated to Christchurch would be staged at Auckland's Eden Park, which will host the World Cup final.

Rugby World Cup Limited chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "We appreciate the patience shown by the teams and fans during this difficult period and are enormously grateful for the support and co-operation of all our partners during what has been a complex process."

RNZ 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden said: "Today's decisions provide the certainty for the affected seven teams, their fans and media around the rescheduled matches. This has been a complex logistical process, but with the help of our tournament partners, the arrangements are now complete."

The knock-on effect of the changes resulting from Christchurch's unavailability as a World Cup venue caused Scotland's match against Georgia to be moved.

Tournament officials considered moving England's match against the same opponents to Invercargill, and allowing Scotland to stay in Dunedin, but decided that was not practical "because of the significant operational challenges that would arise" from that match taking place three days before Argentina v Romania in the same city.

Snedden said organisers have "sought to minimise disruptions to ensure as few teams and their supporters were affected as possible".

He added: "All partners and the New Zealand Government hoped that we would be able to transfer all the pool matches to South Island venues. In the end, this wasn't possible for a number of reasons, including venue capacity, accommodation and operational issues.

"Nelson, Dunedin and Invercargill were logical choices to each host one additional match. But there were always going to be significant problems going beyond that.

"For example, although it was considered, we came to the view that Dunedin could not have reasonably hosted the Australia v Italy match the day after hosting its first major match, England v Argentina.

"We were concerned about the pressure that back-to-back matches would impose on what will be a largely untested venue and a new playing surface.

"In addition, accommodation facilities in the city and surrounding region would also have been under severe pressure from the expected influx of 20,000 fans from outside the region that a double-header would bring.

"While we know that our rescheduling decisions won't please everyone, on balance, we have achieved the best possible result taking into account all relevant factors."